Michael Jordan Says Return Is Very Unlikely


Wednesday, April 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ On the court, Michael Jordan was always one of a kind. His chances of playing again? A mere one in a thousand.

Responding to comments made by fellow Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, Jordan again downplayed the notion that he's planning a comeback, repeating his previous estimate that he's ''99.9 percent sure'' that he's retired for good.

``I haven't wavered one bit from what I've been saying,'' Jordan told The Washington Post for Wednesday's editions. ``If I had to answer today, I'm 99.9 percent sure I won't play again.

``I'm not going to come back as a showpiece. I wouldn't even think about it unless I thought I could maintain the level of play I had when I left. I'd only come back doing everything I always did. And I'm nowhere near that, nowhere close to that. I haven't played in three years.''

While Jordan has been adamant in his denials, he has yet to completely close the door on a comeback bid. He has also yet to deny the rumors in a public forum, instead using more low-key method of private, one-on-one interviews to make his case.

Which is why his oft-stated one-tenth of one percent chance has been enough to keep the comeback stories afloat for two months, and why his latest statement will do little to end the speculation. Even some of Jordan's friends, such as golfing buddy and Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux, have not believed him.

Lemieux, speaking Tuesday after a Penguins practice, said he talked to Jordan in the last 10 days and made it sound like His Airness was all but ready to don the uniform.

``He's going to give it a shot and he's working very hard,'' Lemieux said. ``He's taking his time. He's taking a few months to get ready, but I'm sure when he gets back, he'll be the best player again.''

Jordan was the talk of the nation's capital on Tuesday, the day after Pollin went on television to reveal his ``gut feeling'' that ``the odds are that he's going to come back'' and play for Washington next season.

``I didn't think he'd come back when I first heard the talk,'' Pollin said. ``But when Mario Lemieux came back to the Penguins, it stirred something in Michael.''

A Jordan comeback would be bigger than that of Lemieux, one of the owners of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, who ended a 3 1/2-year retirement in December.

Pollin's words were stunning, given the business relationship between him and Jordan. As the team's president of basketball operations, Jordan is answerable only to Pollin.

Jordan also owns a small piece of the Wizards, and he would have to divest his ownership under NBA rules before returning to the court.

The man who recruited Jordan to Washington 15 months ago, however, doesn't see a comeback taking place. Ted Leonsis welcomed Jordan to town on Jan. 19, 2000, making him a partner in a group that owns all of the NHL's Washington Capitals and a portion of the Wizards.

``He owns a part of the Wizards, he owns a part of the Capitals,'' Leonsis told WTOP radio. ``There would have to be lots of discussions between Michael and me, Michael and Abe, Michael and the league, and none of that is happening. If this was real, I think we would be further down that road.''

Pollin and others who give credence to the possibility of a Jordan comeback usually cite three pieces of evidence: Jordan's workouts with the Wizards and his admission that he is playing basketball recreationally at a health club; Charles Barkley's statement that he would like to play with Jordan in Washington next season; and Jordan's sheer competitiveness that is fueled by the knowledge he still had plenty left when he retired from the Chicago Bulls after the 1997-98 season.

``Sure, it's fun to think about it,'' Jordan told the Post, ``seeing where I am in terms of fitness and psyche. But look at the reality of it. Where's the test? Playing against guys recreationally at the health club? I'm not even in position to think about it. Right now, it's recreational to me if I'm not capable of playing at that level, I wouldn't do it. I'm nowhere near what would have to be to even consider playing.''

The factors working against a Jordan comeback are his age _ it's doubtful he can still dominate the game at 38 _ and his preference to live in Chicago. He would actually have to start showing up for the games if he were playing, abandoning his current routine of staying with his family and running the Wizards by telephone.

Jordan practiced with the Wizards last week, wearing his old No. 23. He rolled his eyes in disbelief when the subject of a comeback was broached by reporters afterward.

``The only thing this signals is that I'm getting some exercise,'' Jordan said at the time.

While there are those who believe a comeback will happen and those who believe it won't, a common middle-ground is that Jordan simply hasn't made up his mind and therefore is reticent to deny the rumors before a larger audience.

``I think he's waiting to see what he feels like when he's out there,'' Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Jordan's former coach with the Bulls, said recently. ``I think he will have a parachute in case he doesn't want to do it, in case he feels like it's not worth it, in case he doesn't feel he can play up to the level he wants to.''

Jordan has a five-year contract with the Wizards. He initially retired as a player in 1993 after winning three NBA titles with Chicago and tried to make a career in professional baseball. But he returned to the Bulls for the NBA playoffs in 1995 and played through 1998, winning three more titles.